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The Pantomime

Features

Discover the Pantomime's origins and find out 10 things you never knew...

Satirical beginnings

So we know what a pantomime looks and cooks like. The ingredients for this English theatre institution are there to be stirred up into a heady brew for the children to sup and love.

Satirical beginnings
Worldly origins

Worldly origins

“We can act anything,” was the cry of the Pantomimus performers of Ancient Greece, the wonderfully termed Pantomimis. While this was a cry of ability on their part, it might easily sum up the attitude of the pantomime performers in the mid-17th century.

Harlequin

Harlequin was a central character in the Commedia dell’Arte. In a costume of multicoloured diamonds, this jolly character was the lover of Columbine, a servant girl. Each performance would include the story of how their affair was put in peril by the workings of her father, Pantaloon.

Harlequin
Flaps & Traps

Flaps & Traps

Spectacle was a crucial part of pantomime to impress audiences. Consequently, each theatre would compete, aiming to come up with more and more complex and amazing transformation scenes. This led to innovations in set design and mechanical devices that we still rely upon today in all aspects of theatrical performance.

Animal antics

As the theatrical pantomime productions emerged into the 19th century, they were becoming increasingly impressive, with all the stage trickery and magic we are familiar with in the modern Christmas spectacle.

Animal antics
Cross-dressing

Cross-dressing

While the Lady Boys of Bangkok might have perfected the art of morphing gender in performance, the very essence of cross-dressing in an English panto is that we all know that the boy is a girl and that the mum is a man.

So this is Christmas

But what of the seasonal nature of this iconic and traditional theatrical entertainment? Like so many Christmas traditions, it is tempting to see them just as that – traditions – and look for their origins down the years into the mists of time.

So this is Christmas
The plot thickens

The plot thickens

The classical stories of the original Pantomimes were acted out in masks, and dance and singing were well known to their 18th-century audiences. But the classical stories traditionally told at the top of the pantomime bill began to be replaced by fairy tales and European legends, which were growing popular at this time.

Ten Things...

About this national festive fun:

Ten Things...